OPINION: Beale On ... Selfridges Birmingham

There was a sweet little ditty played out into my childhood living room that has claimed a dim corner in the back of my mind. I thought of it last week, reading about the redevelopment of Birmingham's retail landscape.

"At the Bullring shopping centre, there's a smile on every face. From the moment that you enter, you'll find it's a friendly place." A chirpy soundtrack; I could hold the tune for you now.

Perhaps one of the reasons the jingle has stuck is the brutal reality of the Bullring I remember: long, chilly, deserted underpasses leading to dirty oases of bargain shops staffed by people who genuinely couldn't have spelt the word "service". And the only smiles on show surely owed rather more to cheap drugs than a cheery retail experience.

Birmingham now is trying to do a Glasgow. From the grimy pit of impoverishment, it wants to regenerate. Shopping, naturally, is leading the charge. With the revived Bullring comes an influx of smart shops, including the return of Debenhams and the arrival of Selfridges.

In fact, the new Selfridges building is the highlight of the entire overhaul.

Designed by Future Systems, it's a curvaceous bubble of aluminium disks inspired by a Paco Rabanne dress. For Selfridges it's a £40 million investment and one that looks set to become an icon of all that the new Bullring hopes to achieve.

It's hard to over-state what, if successful, the new Bullring will do for perceptions of Birmingham, for civic pride and for choice-hungry shoppers.

But the campaign for Selfridges Birmingham fails to capture this excitement.

Mother's 40-second TV ad, "pointing", is a confusing and strangely empty experience. It shows, as you might already have guessed, lots of people with a finger up in the air, pointing, but otherwise going about their daily lives (showering, sitting on a bus, riding a bike). It could be an ad for a surgical muscle relaxant or new deodorant with an uncomfortably lengthy drying time. The agency's been careful to get a subtly inclusive ethnic mix of actors to reflect the make-up of the market, but why do they all look so damn bored? Visit Selfridges? Looks like you'd have more fun spending a day out on Spaghetti Junction. This doesn't exactly feel like an ad for a major Birmingham happening.

To not root the whole experience more firmly by employing the colourful character of the city itself seems like a missed opportunity. And the decision to give no suggestion of what delights lie inside the beautiful bubble is surely a mistake; the bubble could be a municipal swimming baths for all the hints dropped in the ad. Why not try to capture the orgasmic Selfridges retail experience and give life to the glamour that regular shoppers associate with the store?

Now maybe we're all supposed to just know what Selfridges is, what it stands for among the rabble of high-street department stores. But if the idea is to appeal to the breadth of Birmingham shoppers, that seems an arrogant assumption. Perhaps the idea is to tease out our interest. But what should be a tantalising endline - "Now see inside" - is undermined by the funereal lack of excitement in the preceding frames.

There's a poster campaign to support the TV and cinema work, which positions the building as the background against which Brummies want to have their photograph taken. The poster campaign does underline that this is a new - and beautiful - landmark for the city, and will no doubt one day soon become synonymous with it. And heck, unlike the TV ad, at least the people on the posters are smiling ... which reminds me of that old advertising jingle again.

Dead cert for a Pencil? Not even in the "best regional retail ad for a

department store".

File under ... B for bull.

What would the chairman's wife say? "Darling, why have those people only

applied their anti-perspirant under one arm?"

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